Taxpayers Finance Anti-Pipeline Activists

Published April 27, 2016

An obscure program nestled deep in the bowels of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is funneling taxpayer money to environmental activists who oppose natural gas pipelines, according to an investigative report issued by InsideSources.

In 2009, Congress created the Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) program in DOT’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to provide funding to nonprofits and local governments to act to “improve damage prevention, develop new technologies, or otherwise improve [the] pipeline safety” of natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines.

During the first five years of the program, over $6.4 million in TAG grants were awarded to 110 recipients. While much of the money has gone to organizations undertaking projects to improve pipeline safety, InsideSources uncovered several instances where TAG grantees had clear conflicts of interest and engaged in advocacy, in violation of the program’s guidelines.

“The federal government is awash in grant programs that regularly funnel taxpayer money to political allies,” said Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. “The guidelines governing these programs are regularly ignored, because bureaucrats figure they can get away with it.

“Do away with the grants, and you do away with the problem,” said Rucker.

No Funds for Lobbying, Advocacy

Shawn McCoy, the author of the InsideSources report, says the regulations authorizing TAG clearly state funds “may not be used for lobbying, advocacy for or against a pipeline construction or expansion program, or in direct support of litigation.”

These guidelines were clearly ignored when a $50,000 TAG grant was awarded in 2009 to the left-leaning Tides Center. The money helped finance a study on aging pipeline infrastructure, in which the authors called on Congress to reconsider pipeline classifications at the same time Congress was considering a pipeline safety bill.

“The report’s advocacy for congressional action appears to be beyond the scope of allowable use for grant money,” McCoy wrote. 

Government-Funded Pipeline Opposition

The Pipeline Safety Coalition (PSC), led by Lynda Farrell, received at least $200,000 in direct PHMSA TAG grants from 2011 to 2015. An additional $50,000 TAG grant was awarded to East Brandywine Township in September 2014 and was passed through to PSC.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports Farrell and the PSC were at the time the grant was awarded offering regulatory filings to block construction of the Mariner East Pipeline.

“[T]here are clear questions over conflicts when an organization involved in regulatory filings against a pipeline is simultaneously being provided with taxpayer money to conduct research on that same pipeline,” wrote McCoy.

Another questionable recipient is the Pipeline Safety Trust (PST), which often works with the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to support legislation that would make it harder to build pipelines or keep an existing one operating. PST has pocketed over $224,000 in TAG grants since 2009.

The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania received close to $150,000 in TAG funding between 2011 and 2013, even as it actively encouraged its members to call members of Congress in an effort to halt the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, says the Obama administration deserves much of the blame.

“The Obama administration has been funding and organizing hard-left green activists who write, testify, and organize activities to oppose the use of fossil fuels,” Kish said. “Part of this funding comes through grants for supposed educational activities. More money comes through sue-and-settle agreements in cooperative lawsuits, where the government just rolls over and hands money to groups who’ve sued it.

“These agreements are one way the administration [gets] its anti-energy policies enacted without having to go through the normal administrative process, including holding public hearings and opening proposed regulations up for public comment. … Backdoor funding is criminal, reminiscent of what we see in banana republics, and represents a danger to a free society.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.